Cruise Day 3: Northwards to Echinoderm Heaven!

This morning the team set off from Port Townsend after a quick evening, heading north towards the San Juan Islands. Severe losses of sea stars had been reported in these waters by various collaborators, so we are keen to see what lies beneath the waves- and beneath where scientific and recreational divers had reported sea star disease in the last couple of years.


Early morning departure from Port Townsend

First stop on today’s activities was Point Partridge, which is on the northern end of Whidbey Island. This site was chosen since it’s not regularly visited by divers. Unfortunately, our first station was also in the middle of a shipping channel and also a giant mud bank, so we quickly relocated to a station further out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and were greeted by numerous crab pots – a good sign as these are usually where sea stars thrive. After a quick trawl, we recovered quite a few interesting echinoderms in waters ~ 35m deep, including numerous green urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachensis), two sea cucumbers (Parastichopus), and two small Solaster stimpsoni, the latter of which looked in pretty rough shape – they had some kind of white overgrowth and potentially lesions. Satisfied with the haul, the team steamed north for the long trip to Shannon Point. Why not sample at points in between? Well, first it did not appear to be a favorable habitat for sea stars, but also, it is home to a large military facility and we wanted to stay clear.

The weather turned gorgeous for most of the transit – winds very calm and the sun came out, which helped us shake off the chills from the previous day. As we approached Anacortes and Shannon Point, the team was treated to a most spectacular view of the straits!

Approaching the San Juans 

Upon arrival at our site at Shannon Point, we deployed again and recovered several interesting stars – including a Solaster damsonii, two Crossaster papposus, and several Henricia ornata. In fact, we’ve seen Henricia pretty much everywhere, and few look in rough shape.

A short transit later and we performed another station just north of Anacortes, and recovered another suite of echinoderms – no stars, but more holothurians and a couple of green urchins.


Next, we traveled north towards Orcas Island, where we took some time to find an appropriate trawl location, finally finding a sandy bottomed site. It was pretty close to land – in fact, this is the first time Ian has done any work so close to land, which provided some interesting views!


Quite the incline – we are in 40m of water here…

Left: Mitch and Jacob fill a carboy to look for virioplankton; Right: We accidentally caught an octopus in the trawl, which was very quickly released…

After an attempted trawl in East Sound, the bottom of which is covered in a thick layer of muck, we moved to another site and set up shop. This time, our trawls provided us with some interesting sea stars: for the first time, we saw a slime star (Pteraster), a species which wasn’t reported to be affected by SSWD.

More interesting stars from the deep…

After a long day filled with superb specimens, the cruise decided to head into port at the Friday Harbor Marine Labs, where the team spent a bit of time looking around the dock. Interestingly, they found a large specimen of Pycnopodia helianthoides – a species thought to be extirpated from the San Juans – happily eating some invertebrates.

Tomorrow the team heads to the north of San Juan Island and east towards Bellingham. Hopefully we see more cool echinoderms along the way!


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